---- — For the better part of nine days, Mother Nature played nice with the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series and the annual running of the hugely popular Indiana Sprint Week.
However, with the stage set for an epic showdown on the final night, heavy rain swept across the southern portion of the state, thus ending the 2013 version of ISW, a grueling stretch of seven races in nine days that separates the haves from the have nots.
As it turned out, Tony Stewart Racing standout Bryan Clauson got hot at just the right time, picking up wins in the final two races to secure the ISW title.
Chase Stockon ended up second in what turned out to be the finale at Bloomington with Brady Bacon a solid third in the famed Mean-Green/Lykins/Hoffman Racing No. 69. Chris Windom and Ryan Bernal rounded out the top five. Dave Darland, who was besieged with tough luck after leading the ISW points battle early in the week, was sixth followed by Justin Grant, Christopher Bell, Wes McIntyre and C.J. Leary in the top 10. Kokomo Speedway regular Chris Gurley was 15th and four-time Kokomo track champion Shane Cottle was 23rd.
Thursday night saw 50 sprint cars on the grounds of the Lincoln Park Speedway as Thomas set quick time aboard his Mike Dutcher-owned No. 17RW, but when the field rolled out for the feature it was once again Clauson proving to be the best of the best aboard the TSR/Chevy Performance/Kistler Engines No. 20.
The popular driver got past young phenom Bell on the 13th lap and never looked back in posting the win with Bell and Brady Short chasing him to the finish. Jon Stanbrough was fourth with Windom rounding out the top five. McIntyre, re-energized after winning a local show at Kokomo two weeks ago, led the local contingent with a 13th-place run. Cottle was 17th and Darland 21st. Defending track champion at the local oval, Scotty Weir, was 24th.
The “Widow Maker,” also known as the Terre Haute Action Track, played host to the fourth leg of the series on Wednesday and it was all Thomas, as he never trailed in the 30-lap feature event.
Stanbrough was a solid second at arguably one of his three best tracks while Bacon stayed consistent with his third-place run. Robert Ballou, one of the favorites heading into the mini-series, was fourth and Stockon fifth. McIntyre was eighth in his family-owned No. 83, Windom ninth and Cottle 10th. Darland, after starting off the week with solid showings, finished 17th after losing his brakes while running for the lead. Jerry Coons Jr. was second-quick in qualifications aboard the Edison Motorsports/Crume-Evans Insurance/Allen’s Body Shop No. 10E, but struggled to a 19th-place finish in the A-main.
The third leg of the series was at the scary-fast Lawrenceburg Speedway where, like he would do a night later, Thomas was clearly the class of the field, taking the lead on the second lap and never looking back the rest of the 28 circuits.
Darland, on the heels of back-to-back top-five runs the opening two nights at Gas City and Kokomo, was second and Bacon again was third. Cottle was an impressive fourth and Clauson fifth. McIntyre paced the second five with his sixth-place showing followed in the top-10 by Justin Grant, Bell, Ballou and Richard Vander Weerd. Stanbrough was 11th, Coons 15th, Windom 16th and Weir 23rd.
As noted in last week’s column, Stanbrough won the opening leg at Gas City with Cottle a close second and Schuerenberg third after starting 14th. Clauson was fourth and quick-qualifier Darland fifth.
In the second leg at the local oval, Thomas posted the first of his three wins with a nifty pass of Chad Boespflug and McIntyre with just 20 laps remaining. McIntyre was second, Darland third Bell fourth and Windom fifth.
When the dust settled, or in this case the rain came, Saturday night at Haubstadt, Clauson outdistanced second-place Bacon by 26 points (338-312). Despite his three wins, finishes outside the top-10 doomed Thomas as he was third with 307 markers. After three races, Darland appeared poised for his fourth ISW title, however the tough luck down the stretch left him fourth with 296 points while Bell rounded out the top five in his first-ever ISW with 288 points. Stanbrough was sixth for the week with 272 points, Windom seventh (268) McIntyre eighth (258) and Cottle 10th (242) among drivers with local interest.
In the overall points battle, Clauson may have taken a huge step towards repeating.
Following the Lawrenceburg visit, Darland held what seemed like a commanding lead in his bid for his second career national championship, 64 points (998-934). That amount was the most any driver had led so far this season in the series.
However, in three races, Clauson’s huge run of two wins and a 12th-place showing, coupled with Darland’s bad luck, he outscored the Lincoln veteran 173-102 to take a seven-point cushion into the next event Aug. 6 at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Cottle sits in 10th-place in the points battle with 707 markers despite not chasing the series full time.
Brett Bowman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the sports department.